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Marketing Agency Exposed Podcast

Apr 29, 2020


Ever wish you could pick the brain of an industry leader who has been around a lot longer than you, has had a lot more success than you, has been down your road before, and is willing to share it all with you? Yeah, we did too. So we reached out to Daniel Brian Cobb, the founder of The Daniel Brian Agency. Dan’s agency has won more than 21 Emmy’s, advises clients like Papa John’s and Disney, is a respected author, and has been leading and growing his business and clients for over 30 years.


Daniel has seen it all from the 2008 financial crisis to the current 2020 COVID-19 recession. Daniel is one of the voices that large brands go to for advice in times of crisis. He’s an amazing agency leader and God-given innovator. 


Daniel shares it all today. We discuss how he’s leading his clients and agency through this crisis, and the next wave of change that is coming.


And just like the rest of us, Daniel’s business isn’t immune to the current crisis. In the first 24hrs of the Coronavirus shut down his agency lost $1M in business. We talk about how he dealt with disappointments like this and how he’s actually gained more business through this time. There is always HOPE and Dan walks us through finding it.


This is an episode you want to listen to with your notepad ready (or just use our notes below:).


Resources Mentioned: 


Top 3 Curtain Pulls in this episode:

  1. We are in the third wave: The Participation Age. This is about collaboration and smaller units of power. Getting more access and creating a greater weight than any one big organization could ever create.
  2. Owning your media is more important now than ever! As we shift into a new way of doing business, owning your platforms and connections with your customers is vitally important. 
  3. Innovate. Use the 80/20 innovation system. Always put 20% of resources towards future innovation. Be careful about doing any more or less. Your business must be healthy AND you must innovate to survive.


For more tips, discussion, and behind the scenes:


About our Guest: 

Dan Cobb: Founder of the Daniel Brian Agency (DBA), author of Surfing the Black Wave and 30+ year industry veteran. DBA specializes in innovative and measurable advertising campaigns to engage families via retail, healthcare, digital TV, family entertainment, and sporting goods. Dan has worked with brands like Papa Johns, Henry Ford Health Systems, and Chick-fil-A to provide creative connections with local communities. Connect with Dan: 


About The Guys: 

Bob Hutchins: Founder of BuzzPlant, a digital agency that he ran from from 2000 -2017. He is also the author of 3 books. More on Bob: 

Brad Ayres: Founder of Anthem Republic, an award-winning ad agency. Brad’s knowledge has led some of the biggest brands in the world. Originally from Detroit, Brad is an OG in the ad agency world and has the wisdom and scars to prove it. Currently that knowledge is being applied to his boutique agency. More on Brad:

Ken Ott: Co-Founder and Chief Growth Rebel of Metacake, an Ecommerce Growth Team for some of the world’s most influential brands with a mission to Grow Brands That Matter. Ken is also an author, speaker, and was nominated for an Emmy for his acting on the Metacake Youtube Channel (not really). More on Ken: 


Show Notes:

[1:24] Brad introduces our guest Dan Cobb. 

  • 28 year veteran in this industry. 
  • Wrote Surfing the Black Wave

[3:44] Dan tells us about his clients and the type of work he does. “We started with two types of clients. We started in healthcare and pizza. First two clients, Henry Ford health system, and Domino’s pizza.” 

  • “Our experience is really in taking chain based organizations, local organizations that are widespread and building that local connection in the local community for those organizations.” 
  • Gives example of Chick-Fil-A. When they work with a chain like this, the focus is more on local communities and local engagement. Daddy-daughter date nights, military appreciation nights, etc. 

[4:56] Dan continues: “In doing that over the years, what we’ve learned is that connection happens in the community, connections happens through values… That’s great to have a pizza on sale, a $5 hot and ready, but you can beat that with a $7 pizza that cares.” 

  • They ran a campaign for Hungry Howies that donated proceeds to breast cancer research. They experienced a 23% increase of sales that month, and they gained a quarter of a million Facebook fans and followers. 
  • “We saw how that local connectivity is about connecting to the values that people care about there and then bringing that together for maybe a promotion, maybe not… it’s more important that you have that values connection. 

[5:53] Brad reflects on first meeting Dan years ago. He recalls that Dan had a very clear vision that had nothing to do with advertising. Brad asks Dan what that “Why” core value system looks like these days. 

[7:22] Dan responds: “Many of us started with writing or artistic or musical skills, and it kind of drove us into this industry, which gave us a way to compensate those skills… for me it went back to when I was a kid. I was sitting on the couch watching tv… mom walks into the room and says turn that off, that’s bad for you. Go out and do something good for you. And it was that moment… it was this though, Why does it have to be bad for me? Why does this content, this entertainment, this advertising have to be bad for me? Maybe I can make that change.” 

[8:10] He recalls Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign impacting him strongly. As a runner, he found himself truly inspired by the commercials that he’d seen. “It inspired me to be a better runner, to be a better person, overcome the pain in my life, and just take on the challenges… why can’t advertising always do that type of thing?”

[8:35] Dan: “So we started building a model around that… we call it Better Brands for a Better Human Condition. So we put everything we do through that filter: Is what we’re doing building a better brand for a better human condition?”

  • “As a team, we started pull all-nighters, pretty much the slave shifts. We’ve all done it in this business… one of my staff members said ‘How is this a better brand for a better human condition?’”
  • Helping your clients be the best they can be oftentimes comes at the expense of your internal team. Dan talks about how traditionally, advertising is terrible on employees. One client drops off and cuts have to be made, so there is a sense of very real fear every day. So he has worked hard to make his agency a great place to work.

[10:01] Ken speaks about how advertising has had a “churn and burn” kind of experience in the past. Not having come from advertising, he’s had a different experience of the work. 

[11:37] Ken continues: “We focused on how do we create a business that is different and the purpose is really not the product we put out. It’s the message that we stand for… How do we do things like create a staff environment that’s not continually expanding and contracting- literal financial stability that is not necessarily dependent on any one particular client..”

[12:37] Dan interjects- “We hear about flattening the curve right now- we’ve been flattening the curve our entire careers!” 

  • Reflects on the common experience of many ad agencies- working long hours sacrificing family and personal time, busting your butt to get things out the door only to find that the client isn’t happy and you both lose in that situation.

[12:56] Dan: “So we now have been thinking through how do we flatten that curve so that through the course of the year, it’s fairly level… you have a few peaks, but it’s not all spikes and then drop offs. Managing that is really about managing a client… getting them on course and managing their calendar, building out longterm plans… looking for the kinds of clients who marry, who don’t date around.” 

  • Everyone feels the pain of clients who are not interested in settling down into a longterm plan with you- you, the client, and your team especially. 

[13:46] Brad speaks about a common theme here on Agency Exposed: “Are our businesses just a commodity or do we have a value that is unique enough that we’re not on that list of customers that are going to go and burn out agencies… our business has struggled because some of our offerings are commodities and others are not.” 

  • The fast pace of technology has increased the pace of the agency industry and it’s easy to fall out of step with the changes if you’re not intentional about it and learn to pivot quickly. 

[15:04] Bob segues into Dan’s book and the principles that he talks about. “Can you talk a little bit about that and maybe contextualize it for what’s going on right now. This whole idea that everything becomes commoditized… if it’s a new technology, new knowledge base, people start to learn it, more people start to learn it and it becomes a commodity… so what digital marketing was 15 years ago you can now pay $5 for someone to do it.”

  • Lately there is a shift that has happened. Where the focus was on quick results expertise, very much focused on bottom dollar ROI, now we read requests for high level Facebook ad specialists, conversion rate optimization specialists.

[16:33] Bob: “It almost feels like the tide is going back out again… what are you seeing in the context of what you write about in that kind of tsunami, black wave metaphor.” 

[16:47] Dan reflects on his childhood proclivity for invention. “My grandfather was an inventor and he taught me a lot about how inventors think.” 

  • Modern acceptance is that Amazon IS ecommerce, that it was a battle and Amazon won. Same with social media- there was a war and Facebook won. But an inventor always has hope for something new, for change. They will take ideas, put them together and create social media commerce. There WILL be another shift. 

[17:54] Dan speaks about the Third Wave Model based on a tsunami metaphor. 

  • A tsunami hit Hawaii and many people went out to the shore to marvel at the fish flopping out of water after the first wave hit. Little did they know, that marvel that they were distracted by was a sign of the next wave to come. Many lives were lost to that tsunami, people who were just spectators watching what had taken place. 

[18:31] Dan says “I believe we’re in the same place. We’re all spectators watching social media saying ‘Well, that’s over, Facebook won, Zuckerberg had the final say’ but there is another shift coming because there’s a mindset shift that took place over the first two waves. The mindset shift came in and said ‘It’s no longer the big three, the big five, whatever the number is in any particular industry to control everything.’” 

  • The first wave was thousands of years of agricultural society… the industrial revolution was the first great wave of society’s change in thought. Anyone can get a product.
  • The next wave is information. It allowed everyone to have access to content, and people like Steve Jobs came and said let’s make this kind of computer technology available to the people and not just the big companies. 
  • The third wave is the mindset shift. This is where people are given all the power, we call it the participation age. Everyone can participate (this podcast, for example) and everyone can influence. 

[20:00] Dan talks about how it is no longer the focus to make one company the BIGGEST around, that model is outdated and useless in this day and age. 

[20:36] “Eventually that model is going to break, well all of them are breaking… It’s better when Daniel Brian meets three other guys who have specific skills that I don’t have, and we intertwine our relationships and build out towards something bigger to serve a bigger population. The participation age is about collaboration and smaller units of power. Getting more access and creating a greater weight than any one big organization could ever create.” 

[21:04] Brad asks what Dan’s suggestions would be for business owners to position themselves for this next wave.

[21:18] Dan responds: 

  • #1: Don’t be afraid to talk to your competitors. They have skillsets that help your ability to reach bigger audiences.
  • #2: “Always take the sale, then price yourself out it rather than saying no.” Say yes, then fall back on your connections within your network to help you execute things you could never do by yourself.

[22:45] Ken agrees with Dan and recalls that that is the reason that Agency Exposed exists. In advertising things tend to be secretive and closed-off from collaboration, everything is a competition and so we tend to be closed off in disclosing what we’re ACTUALLY really good at versus what we say we are really good at. 

[24:15] Ken adds: “we often say collaboration over isolation… there’s a balance between saying you can do everything and being specialized.”

[24:47] Dan: “It’s about vertical integration… your best new business is your current business.” When a client talks about how they want to explore a new solution, tell them you can figure it out for them. 

  • He gives an example of working with Henry Ford healthcare. When they started they had a tiny sliver of a budget with the client, and they began to see things they could do and took on those challenges. They grew from a very niche organization to a broad advisor- “solving the operational problems of the organization with marketing solutions”. 

[28:04] Bob asks: “What are some lessons you’ve used over 30 years that you could offer to some agency owners right now?”

[29:07] Dan responds: “Own the media, it is our future, it is the Black Wave.”

  • He talks about how in the early days of Facebook, if you got 9 million followers, that was a lot and felt very much like your platform like your community. But then Facebook changed that title, and now it’s just likes that you’re getting. So that’s no longer your community, that’s Facebook’s community. And THEN Facebook came in and said hey we can charge you to talk to these followers… 
  • “.. So the future is no longer about going to other people’s media and trying to find your way. It’s about creating your own platform, owning that platform, and getting more and more visibility.”

[32:24] Bob asks for practical advice for agency owners.

[32:37] Dan: “Marketing automation… building around your CRM platform.”

[33:39] Brad asks: “What are some ways during Covid-19 that you’ve had to help your customers pivot?”

[34:06] Dan says “Don’t look at it as a negative.” He gives the example of Papa John’s sales being up to Superbowl numbers. “And so rather than just start to gouge the customer we tried to say how do we endear our customer and connect to them during this time.” 

  • Papa John’s gave away pizza in communities where school lunches were needed. Now in those areas they are far outpacing the market because the communities know what they stand for during this time. 
  • Speaking on healthcare opportunities: “We’ve now flattened the curve for the most part, but there’s a second curve coming. The second curve coming is the mental health crisis… the next crisis is the fact that people have lost their jobs… they’ve been rejected from transplant procedures… the mental health crisis is bound to happen.”

[36:14] Dan continues: “So now’s the time for us to engage our communities with messages of hope. The future. Finding ways for our health systems to engage people and say, we have a model for getting virtual care because people are afraid to go to the hospital so they’re not getting their care.” 

  • Market these new products and give insurance programs that make no copay or half copay for doing the virtual programs that are cheaper. “Build encouragement like Nike did back in the day saying Hey you have hope, you have a future, it’s going to be okay.”

[37:05] Brad asks how he is personally staying “up” in all the chaos and working from home. 

[37:25] Dan: “I’ve been following the stats and trying to be very very informative with them of where I think things are at, telling them about their future. A lot about where we’re going to be… how we’re using this to leverage on Covid marketing. We’re doing a lot of Covid campaigns so we’ve actually seen an increase in our business during this.” 

  • He focuses on being human with them, talking about things like impact on families and ability to be with families. Encourages them to be happy about this time and enjoy it. 

[38:35] Ken asks for elaboration on 2 points. Do you see this changing the way you guys do business? How so? You mentioned that some business has increased- how has that happened and how have you positioned yourself to not be an opportunist in that place, but actually increase your ability to sell well? 

[39:08] Dan: “I’d be cautious to say that my business has increased… The first moment of the crisis… it took us less than 24 hours to lose a million dollars in contracts.”

  • But they did reach out to clients and say ‘There are things you CAN do to survive and thrive through this, let’s tell people that you’re creating solutions through this.’
  • Many were not previously in ecommerce but were brought into that world.

[41:15] Ken speaks on the shock of losing that much money in 24 hours. “How’d you lead your company through that? How did you take action without freaking out inside?”

[41:30] Dan: “Well first I didn’t take action without freaking. I freaked out… for me it’s a faith thing… once I got past that point, I got to my center.” 

  • He began looking at government programs, calling his team to see what was needed and what was missing.
  • Did have some layoffs and gave them a long furlough. 
  • He applied to gov’t programs and received assistance that brought real encouragement.

[43:08] Ken: “As far as opportunities now, as our entire population shifts, how does this shift your business? You talked about the next wave being owned channels… how are you adjusting?”

[43:15] Dan: Hospitals without an address are what will win. Telehealth solutions are the next frontier. “Whoever owns that particular market will dominate the market because it’ll be your first call…” 

[44:38] Ken asks about the same but for Dan’s agency specifically. 

[44:41] Dan: “Our own media platform is… we’re starting to do a lot more of things like this, content that’s going out to our clients.”

  • Creating their own studies that allow them to inform their clients of where they rank against competitors in the marketplace.

[45:44] Bob asks for advice for young solo-preneurs. As the trend of a solo model is becoming more and more popular and talent and resources are being outsourced more and more, what kind of advice can he give to people in the early stages of business? 

[46:17] Dan: “A lot of the things that I accidentally did when I started DBA.”

  • Keep a small home office to keep costs down- stay lean.
  • Don’t hire people who talk a big talk for the long haul. “Find your experience partners but keep them at arms length, let them have their own business… bring them in when you need it and pay them a premium for short windows of work. Don’t hire full-time people for part-time problems.” 

[47:20] Bob asks how to scale this.

[47:22] Dan: “I’ll tell you when I get there!” Working in this way has allowed him between 5 and 10M in revenue regularly, but getting beyond that is the challenge. 

[48:45] Brad asks: “How much approximately of your revenue do you spend on specifically reinventing your company, to move your company to the next wave?”

[49:00] Dan: “Great question. Critical question. I nearly killed my company three times by missing the point of this question.”

  • “Innovation is very we end up getting distracted sometimes… it can become your core. And there’s no financial model for return on it. So if you put all your effort into innovation, you’re overinvesting.” 
  • There is an illustration in his book about this, an 80/20 rule. “New business is not a slice in your pie. It’s a completely separate has to stay away from your core, it has to be a completely separate entity, a separate model, separate team, separate everything, but you want to make sure you’re central and focused on 80% of your business at all times.”

[51:20] Bob asks Dan for info on his book and website.